There is a strain of conventional wisdom in the conservative media which says that pushing back against an Obama presidency is good for business, but historical monthly ratings figures from Nielsen Media Research seems to indicate a point of diminished returns for Fox News’ primetime lineup of right-leaning opinion shows. With the general election between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney heating up, Fox primetime has posted its lowest average monthly viewers since July of 2008.
According to Nielsen’s monthly ratings, Fox News’ 8pm-11pm primetime lineup averaged 2,010,000 total viewers and 399,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic in May, both the network’s lowest figures since July of 2008, when the numbers were 1,687,000 total viewers and 364,000 in the demo. That was just before ratings soared due to unprecedented interest in the 2008 election, more than doubling those July lows in October:
As the chart above indicates, the month of May is usually a soft one, ratings-wise, but even given that trend, Fox primetime is off 21% in the demo from last May, which was, at the time, the network’s lowest May showing since President Obama’s election.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic and sell off your collection of Sean Hannity memorabilia, Fox News still dominates cable news ratings by a Kenyan mile. From my perspective, ratings also don’t say much about influence or quality. If they did, we’d be ignoring all news programming in favor of Pat Sajak.
But it does seem to indicate that something is going on. It’s not as if the anti-Obama market has suddenly dried up, and the other networks don’t seem to be picking up these viewers. It’s possible that Fox News has become something of a victim of its own success.
First, there’s the recent Pew study which found that the press gave twice as much favorable coverage to Mitt Romney as to President Obama. Whereas Fox News primetime used to be the one-stop shop for your NObama fix, the rest of the media has apparently glommed on for its share of that pie.
But there’s something else that’s different from 2008, something more difficult to precisely measure. While the left clearly got the jump on the right in mobilizing and utilizing the blogosphere in the early aughts, conservatives have been much more engaged and active on Twitter, which, apart from being a social network, is also a 140-character personalized newsroom. All of the cable networks have had to contend with new media bleeding off viewership, but since conservatives have especially taken to Twitter in the years since the President’s election, an outlet like Fox News might be feeling the delayed effect of that migration.